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Just in the past few days we have seen an exquisite example of how inaccurate, unfounded, faulty scientific statements can quickly cause unwarranted public alarm. A professor in West Virginia made unsupported public statements that he ‘guaranteed’ some residents in the state were breathing in formaldehyde gas at unsafe levels as they were enjoying their hot showers.
While these inaccurate and speculative comments were creating a viral buzz, causing undue concern among area residents and gaining national attention, credible voices also reacted quickly to point out the flaws in the original comments and provide some balanced perspective regarding any risk.
University of Washington Public Health Dean Dr. Howard Frumkin suggested that officials use caution when interpreting the results of the water tests. West Virginia American Water called it “misleading and irresponsible to voice opinions on potential health impacts to residents of this community without all of the facts.” And, the Commissioner for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health Dr. Letitia Tierney said the presentation was “totally unfounded and does not speak to the health and safety of West Virginians” and cited the World Health Organization’s opinion that formaldehyde from natural sources is measurable in air and water.
These and other credible voices quickly and effectively disputed the claims made in the press hours earlier. The press quickly corrected the stories to include these quotes and focused on the multitude of voices challenging the professor’s earlier public statements.
Without ‘good science’ being reported as an antidote to emotional ‘faulty science’, the public could still be misinformed.
Science is essential to understanding the world’s most pressing challenges and to overcoming them.
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